Tag Archives: transition

Teaching Autistic People

Just like people of all ages can learn, so is it that autistic people of all ages can learn. It is an utterly sad state of affairs that this even needs to be said, but unfortunately, it needs to be said. Too often I see autistic children being babysat rather than being taught at school. When I ask about academic curriculum being used, I am told, “Oh, he has autism” as if this is an answer to my question.

In my work as an autism consultant I am called on to go to public schools to see autistic students who are thought to be failing what the system has to offer. Most of the time students I see have behaviors that don’t work well in a school setting. For all students I am called in on, I use the stabilization techniques below, which are also the first steps I use when teaching autistic students if the student is not stabilized. This is why I can say that even when your student has autism, including when behaviors are present, he can learn just like any other student can learn. Autistic people are just as deserving of an education as other human beings. That being said, specific supports must be in place to insure access to that education. After all, nobody can do math (or any subject) when they are literally bouncing off the wall (a sign of extreme sensory disregulation).

Stabilization

  1. Internal Regulation (sensory diet)
    Autistics have a neurology that means many systems (sensory, emotions, movement) in their body do not automatically regulate. This means conscious attention and effort must be brought to regulate whatever systems need regulation. For most autistics I work with, the sensory system is so disregulated that it masks emotional and movement disregulation.

  2. External Regulation (interactive visual schedule)
    It really helps to know what is going to happen when – the schedule of events.

    Most students have a neurology that can pick up this sort of information without being instructed. They can sort out the spoken words of the teacher. Students with autism typically have weak auditory processing abilities. Their neurology may not allow them to take in verbal words, sort out which words are relevant and process those words to understand what will happen next. This means every transition from one activity to another can hit them as a huge surprise, causing further disregulation.

    When typical students are distracted and miss the teacher’s verbal instruction of “get out your math books now” they usually become aware that the other students are getting math books out of their desk so they know they are meant to get out their math books too. Autistic students do not pick up these external cues as readily.

    Even when they see other students getting out math books, autistic students do not necessarily take that to mean they should also get out their math book. This has nothing to do with cognitive ability. It has to do with weak connections between areas of the brain – several areas of the brain working together to synthesize environmental, social, emotional and other kinds of information to inform them “I need to get out my math book.”

    Visual schedules support this issue for most autistic students. It is often helpful for the schedule to be interactive – meaning the student needs to do something with the schedule before each transition.

  3. Relationship
    Most students I have been called on to consult for have experienced much angst along the way. They know they are not like other kids. They may or may not know they have autism. One thing I find is that students who are able to communicate are very aware they are different from other kids and they have made up a narrative to explain their differences to themselves. I have been honored by a number of students sharing these stories about why they are different. I have yet to hear a positive story. They are typically stories about major character flaws, sometimes character traits they have heard others ascribe to them such as lazy, stubborn, willful, violent, refuses to share, refuses to co-operate, etc.

    As I begin working with new students I typically use a simple interactive schedule to show them “work” and “sensory break.” I ensure they are successful at following this schedule even if it means we work for a few seconds and engage in sensory regulating activities for a much longer time. I am visually instructing how schedules work while getting the student’s sensory system regulated and doing that in the context of forming a positive relationship.Most students I see have not experienced a lot of positive relationships. They have learned not to trust others around them. I am giving them an exact visual way our time works. They can count on it, become part of it and will always succeed. Over time strong relationships develop. Once a relationship is solid, we know what sensory activities are needed (along with how long and how often) and the student has mastered his interactive visual schedule I know he is now stabilized. Once stabilized we are ready for more formalized instruction.

Instruction

  1. Identify and Teach Needed Skills
    Besides academic instruction, students with autism often have particular skills for which they need to receive direct instruction. This can be anything from how to open a milk carton to waiting for the teacher to call on you when your hand is raised before contributing. It is helpful to identify a few of the skills that are deal breakers to your student getting along in the classroom. Learning and using these skills can be intertwined with academic content and other parts of the day.

  2. Ensure Success by Decreasing Task Demands
    Differentiated Instruction is one way to reduce educational task demands to match the needs of an individual student while ensuring them opportunity to learn along with their peers even though he may not have the same personal resources to bring to the task. My favorite person when it comes to differentiating instruction is Paula Kluth. Every student can do something. If you need ideas on how to use general education curriculum for students with autism who you think cannot do general education curriculum please look up Paula’s work. (paulakluth.com)

    My favorite people when it comes to a discussion about decreasing task demands are Ruth Aspy and Barry Grossman. (www.texasautism.com) An example of decreasing task demands for a student who struggles with handwriting is to take handwriting off the table in all subjects except Handwriting Instruction. Perhaps a scribe is used to do the actual handwriting task or an app such as Dictation Dragon, which means he can now do creative writing through dictation. If the student is an efficient typist perhaps that is the way to go, which means the student can now do social studies assignment that involves answering questions with a paragraph.

  3. Reinforcement
    There is significant brain research that shows students with autism do not benefit from the same kind of social reinforcement that typical students do. For typical students, in general, the more social opportunities you can add into instruction and use for reinforcement, the more learning that takes place.

    For students with autism, social reinforcement and adding social aspects to learning detract rather than enhance learning. Tangible reinforcement tied to learning has been shown to work better than social reinforcement. In fact, it has been the ticket to learning for many autistic students.

    NOTE: I realize ABA therapy has had a history of using reinforcement in a punitive manner tied to repetitious drilling, often quite disrespectfully. This makes punishment, demeaning drilling and disrespect wrong. It does not make reinforcement wrong. All human beings benefit from positive reinforcement.

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BOOKS AND DVD BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006). Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013). Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009). Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009). The Power of Words: How we think about people with autism spectrum disorders matters! Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009c). Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010). Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013). The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Originally written for and published by Ollibean in June 2016. Add a comment here.

 

Autism, Visual Schedules and Prompting

Many autistic students, who have difficulty transitioning from one activity to another, benefit from using a visual schedule in the same interactive way for each transition. Visual schedules provide the means to implement the same transition routine each time the activity changes. Many teachers simply say, “Check your schedule” to signal when it is time for one activity to end and another to begin. Those words serve to initiate the transition routine which the student has learned to complete once initiated without further prompting.

When getting your student to use a schedule, whether it is a schedule with activities rep­resented by real objects or one where activities are represented by pictures or by words, it is impor­tant to be mindful of the prompts you put in for the student. Before introducing anything new, think through how you want the student to ultimately engage in the activity.

  • Do you want the student to start only after you verbally prompt him? For exam­ple, when a student puts a picture from his schedule into the “all-done” pocket, if you want him to be in the habit of waiting to start the next subject, you would teach him to only start after you prompt him saying something like, “Look what’s next.” Some teachers do this because they need to check over work the student just completed before wanting him to move on to the next subject or task on the schedule, or they may need to get materials for the student to use in the next subject or task.
  • Do you want one prompt to initiate a whole sequence? It is most expedient to use one prompt such as “Get ready for the bus” to initiate the chain of events that is to occur when getting ready for the bus. Initially, the student may not know what getting ready for the bus entails. What often happens is that someone prompts the student each step of the way so as to offer support and to keep the student on track to en­sure he is out the door to the bus on time. As a result, some students inadvertently learn to wait for the prompt each step of the way. To avoid this, it is helpful to provide a mini-schedule of pictures to show each step in getting ready for the bus. Then you can use one verbal prompt “Get ready for the bus” and use visuals for the student to track the process. Remember NOT to insert verbal prompts as you teach the student to follow the mini-schedule.

At the same time, when students are learning to follow the sequence of steps, you may need to repeatedly draw their attention to the visual. One way of doing this without speaking – and inadvertently creating a prompt – is to take the student’s finger, put it on the beginning of the picture sequence, and then when he is looking, move his finger through the pictures that represent steps he has already completed, stopping at the pic­ture showing where he is in the sequence. This designates what he is to do next.

It may take several days or weeks for the student to learn this, but once learned, it will be a lifelong skill as we need to “get ready” for countless things and situations. Visuals can be used for the process of getting ready for several different things, such as getting ready for the day (self-care, getting dressed), getting ready for school (school clothes, lunch, backpack, jacket), and getting ready for bed (pajamas, brush teeth, story book). Adults get ready for work, for taking the car in for an oil change, for gro­cery shopping, etc. The fact is, we all “get ready” for many reoccurring events. All we are doing for our students is making that process visual, teaching it to them, and setting them up from the outset to be able to accomplish the entire process indepen­dently when we tell them, in this case, “Get ready for the bus.”

  • Do you want the student to need a prompt each step of the way? Occasionally you may want the student to wait for a prompt for each step of the way, such as on a field trip to a new place where you may not know exactly what will happen when. It then becomes helpful to the student to know that he can count on your prompt each step of the way. At the same time, it is helpful for you to know that the student will not do anything new until you prompt him to do so.

However, in most everyday situations it is not helpful for our students to need to be prompted each step of the way. Most everyday situations are repeated over and over, time after time. Typical students learn from repeated routine that when the teacher says, “Time for math,” she expects students to have their math book, math notebook, and pencil on their desk with everything else put away. However, our stu­dents with autism often need to be taught the routine directly as they do not pick up on routines in the same way typical students learn them.

It is natural for us to verbally prompt each step of the process and that is what is helpful and what works for most students. In fact, it works so well that we don’t even realize when we are doing it. Only when we prompt each step over and over more times than typically necessary for most students do we become frustrated. Verbally prompting each step of a sequence isn’t an expedient way for many students with autism to learn routines. In fact, this often results in the teacher exasperatedly exclaiming, “He is sooooo prompt dependent!” Just remember that for every prompt-dependent student, there has been a prompt-dependent teacher – rarely someone who set out to intentionally teach prompt dependency, but who never­-the-less has taught his student well!

Often, educational assistants work with students with ASD. Since they often work with only one student, they end up talking to that student a lot, often using continuous verbal prompting in their well-intentioned attempt to be helpful to the student. Unfortu­nately, many students learn that the way to do any activity is to wait for the prompt each step of the way. In the end, they may not be able to use their visual schedule unless the teacher or assistant talks them through each and every step at every transition from one activity to the next. Before you start using any new visual with a student it is most important to know that visuals do not need to be narrated! In fact, narrating visuals often insures they are not nearly as helpful as they would have been had your verbiage not been inserted.

To avoid such counterproductive outcomes, it is important to think carefully of the prompts up-front, only putting in what is necessary rather than all of a sudden realizing that your student is not able to use his picture schedule unless you are prompting him each step of the way. It can be difficult to fade prompts, so it is best not to incorporate them in the first place. So, plan ahead. What do you want to ultimately happen when you say, “Check your schedule?”

– From Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go.

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BOOKS AND DVD BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006). Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013). Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009). Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009). The Power of Words: How we think about people with autism spectrum disorders matters! Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009). Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010). Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013). The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS

Originally written for and published by Ollibean on November 19, 2015
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